FAQ icon

Need Answers?

Directory Icon

Email, Phone, and Addresses

Graduation cap icon

Explore Degrees

Is Michigan’s big bet on third-grade reading too small to make a difference?

February 14, 2020

Michigan is spending hundreds of millions of dollars to improve literacy as part of its third-grade reading law but the architects of the law now say that’s not enough money.


Koby Levin of Chalkbeat quoted professor Nell K. Duke in his report on Michigan’s “read by grade three” law. Passed in 2016 in response to stagnant third-grade reading scores, it requires schools hold back third-graders who fall too far behind in reading.

Florida and New York City invested heavily in strengthening instruction for struggling readers when they passed their own third-grade reading policies and both saw their scores improve but Michigan, where fewer than half of students are proficient in reading, has spent much less proportionally than those places on new literacy policies.

Levin reports that over the last five years, Michigan spent roughly $192 million on policies targeting early literacy, from literacy coaches for teachers to summer school for struggling readers. That may sound like a lot of money, but it only adds up to $89 per student per year divided among Michigan’s 430,000 students in grades K-3. By contrast, Florida spends about $154 on early literacy per K-3 student per year, and it has a lower poverty rate for young children than Michigan.

“I think it’s enough to make a dent, but not enough to get us where we need to be,” said Nell Duke. A lack of funding has become an issue in other states experimenting with third-grade reading laws. Duke has argued that the money spent on holding kids back would be better spent on evidence-based efforts to improve literacy.

For instance, Michigan has already spent $50.5 million on the literacy coaches, but Duke pointed to a study showing that this strategy is effective when there’s one coach for every 14 teachers. “We are nowhere near a 1 to 14 coach-to-teacher ratio in the state,” she said.

For years, the state instructed districts to spend additional money on third-grade reading. With students set to be retained for the first time this year, districts may be diverting funds from other programs to help students avoid being retained.


Featured in this Article

Professor, Marsal Family School of Education

More News

August 18, 2021
Professor Gina Cervetti was quoted in an Education Week article discussing the new framework for designing the reading assessment of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP).
September 28, 2020
Professor Nell Duke was quoted in a Chalkbeat Colorado article by Ann Schimke, “More social studies in elementary school may produce better readers, new study suggests.”
August 27, 2020
The site now features materials to support online learning and extensive materials to support bilingual and multilingual learners.
May 15, 2020
Elizabeth Moje joined Stephen Henderson on Detroit Today to discuss the settlement in the “right to literacy” case brought by Detroit students.
March 06, 2020
Nell Duke and colleagues co-published a commentary piece in the Chicago Tribune calling for improvements in the education of Black male youth.
February 28, 2020
Nell Duke, with alumnae Lauren Katz and Crystal Wise, analyzed records and depositions to determine how well some California schools taught reading in light of a recent lawsuit.
December 18, 2019
In an article for The Michigan Daily, reporter Alex Harring wrote about U-M students who are advocating against a controversial state reading law. Among them is Educational Studies student Gabriel DellaVecchia.
December 11, 2019
Professor Annemarie Sullivan Palincsar is the 2019 recipient of the P. David Pearson Scholarly Influence Award, which is presented annually by the Literacy Research Association for a single contribution to research that has demonstrably and positively influenced literacy instruction and/or policy.